SYRACUSE – The whispers grew louder every year as Jaylen Adams continued developing into an elite player at St. Bonaventure. There was talk he would leave for a bigger and better program after his first two seasons. Last year, there were rumbles about him turning professional.
Adams kept coming back, in part because he knew heavy minutes would be available with the Bonnies. He continued working and improving and maturing into the complete player you see today. He has reached a point in which he's the best player in the game virtually every time he steps on the floor.
The senior was terrific in the first half and came through late before 20,976 fans who watched St. Bonaventure beat Syracuse for the first time in the Carrier Dome, a wild 60-57 victory you could almost see coming. It was the first time since 1981 that the Bonnies beat the Orange, anywhere.
What a crazy game.
St. Bonaventure had one field goal over the final 16 minutes, 40 seconds and still managed to win. Courney Stockard made 5 of 6 free throws and drew a charge with 12 seconds remaining in overtime. The Bonnies played terrific defense in the extra session after crumbling under Syracuse's full-court press in the second half.
The Bonnies wouldn't have been in the game without Adams, who scored 21 points in the first half and made two critical free throws with 6.1 seconds remaining to seal the deal. He made 6 of 9 shots from the field, including 4 of 5 from three-point range, and didn't attempt a shot in the second half or overtime.
Adams led an an 18-5 run and had a 10-point lead before taking a 40-33 advantage into halftime. But one question lingered against the Orange: Could the Bonnies and their leader hold it together for an upset you could almost feel coming?
Syracuse pushed back, as you knew they would. The Orange applied a full-court press and held the Bonnies to one basket over the final 11:40 of regulation. Bona had a 13-point lead before crumbling under the press.
For a while, neither team shot the ball well enough to deserve a win. Syracuse continued cranking up its defense before tying the game, 53-53, when 7-foot-2 center Paschal Chukwu converted a three-point play with 1:12 remaining, forcing overtime.
UB and St. Bonaventure proved to be two worthy opponents for Syracuse this week, which makes you wonder why they don't play each other more often. Buffalo and Bona are looking for matchups against power conferences, and Syracuse loads up with games against teams from smaller programs.
The gap was narrow between Syracuse and the two Big 4 teams. Buffalo hadn't played Syracuse since the 2001-02 season before falling Tuesday after having the lead with three minutes remaining. St. Bonaventure, which beat UB earlier in the season, was plenty capable of winning Friday.
So why not play one or both every year?
St. Bonaventure had not beaten Syracuse since Jan. 26, 1981, after which Jim Boeheim vowed to never play another game in the Reilly Center. Bona was 0-10 in the Carrier Dome going into the game Friday and 3-24 against Syracuse overall. Still, it would not have been a monumental upset had Bona prevailed Friday.
The matchup was similar to an 11th seed playing a sixth seed in the NCAA tournament. You see supposedly inferior teams take down so-called giants every year in the Big Dance. Bona's shortcomings were similar to UB's earlier in the week. They had just as much talent, or more, but lacked length.
It wasn't as if the Bonnies were terrified when walking into the Dome on Friday. Let's not forget the Bonnies beat Maryland last month in the Emerald Classic in Florida. They were well aware that they could win if they shot the ball well and limited Syracuse on the backboard, particularly the offensive glass.
SU was fifth in the nation in offensive rebounds per game.
Bona had only one day between games after blowing out Northeastern on Wednesday, leaving Schmidt with a small window to prepare his team for Syracuse's signature zone defense. The formula, hardly a secret, calls for getting a big man to exploit soft spots around the foul line, quick ball movement and success from the perimeter.
It's difficult to execute, however, for a team that spends little time practicing against that style of defense and can't simulate the length of Syracuse's players. The Orange held their opponents to less than 50 percent shooting from the field in the first 11 games. UB's poor shooting in the first half was the difference Tuesday.
St. Bonaventure's interior passing was particularly good, but they had problems finishing inside. Bona missed 10 shots within 3 feet of the bucket in the first 30 minutes of the game and still had an 11-point lead.
The Bonnies also ran into foul trouble. Mobley picked up two personals in the first three-plus minutes. Amadi Ikpeze checked onto the game with just more than seven minutes left in first half, picked up three fouls in 47 seconds and returned to the bench.
Syracuse was an ideal non-conference opponent to get St. Bonaventure prepared for conference play, which opens next weekend against UMass. The Bonnies were picked to finish second in the Atlantic 10, mainly because they have the best guard tandem in the conference and an experienced quality coach in Mark Schmidt.
Bona should know more about the flaws with preseason predictions more than any program. Schmidt for years has managed to exceed expectations for his team while developing players on the fly. After taking down Syracuse, the Bonnies should be ready for just about anybody.